The bill, prompted by Phillip Paul’s escape from last fall’s “field trip” to the Spokane County Fair by Eastern State Hospital patients, got strong support Monday from legislators and a representative of the mental health community during a hearing in the House Human Services Committee.
“This was a very traumatic event for Spokane County,” said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Greenacres, sponsor of HB 2717.
Paul, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1991 slaying of an elderly Sunnyside, Wash., woman, was among 31 Eastern State patients on a supervised field trip to the fair Sept. 17 when he walked away from the group unnoticed and left the fairgrounds. Supervisors didn’t report the escape for two hours; Paul was caught three days later near Goldendale after a massive manhunt.
“This should have never happened and we can never let it happen again,” Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, said.
Under the bill, a patient found not guilty by reason of insanity could get a temporary supervised release for needed medical treatment, to visit the sick bed of a seriously ill relative or attend a relative’s funeral. An amendment approved by the committee would allow court could authorize a temporary supervised release for other reasons. Local law enforcement agencies would have to be notified of any release.
David Lord of Disability Rights Washington said the amendment for a court approval of other supervised trips was an improvement on the original bill, which he said was too restrictive.
If you cut from here down, story is 10 inches…Camden Paul’s escape was also mentioned in a separate hearing on a proposal to allow juries to find a criminal defendant guilty and mentally ill. That verdict would be added to the current options of guilty, not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
HB 2887, backed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, is supported by law enforcement and the state Department of Corrections, which already houses about 4,000 mentally ill inmates, about a fourth of the total population, Secretary Eldon Vail said.
Other supporters said the bill was a way to hold people accountable for crimes they commit while insuring that they get mental health treatment while they serve a sentence.
But it was criticized as an attempt to criminalize mental illness by Eleanor Owen of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Paul “simply outwitted negligent or incompetent staff,” she said. A better solution would be to spend money on early treatment to head off violent acts by the mentally ill, she added.
Other opponents called it a "back door attack" on the insanity defense and argued it would merely confuse jurors.